Fantasy Fishing: Every ounce will count

Michael Iaconelli

It’s hard to believe, but we are just two tournament days away from rounding the halfway point of the season. Lake Murray, a South Carolina stud of a fishery has blown up since the Elites were there in 2023. The average number and size of the bass captured in that event was staggering. It took every bit of a 17-pound average across two days to get to fish Day 3 and all but one angler had a 20-pound average after fishing the final day.

The most exciting part of this event was how most of these fish were caught. The shad spawn (or herring spawn in this case), not only offers a consistent way to find and catch bass, but for the sake of all of us fans, it is usually hot, heavy and includes a fair bit of topwater action.

Even though most of the top anglers were fishing the shad spawn, the eventual winner Drew Benton, was focusing on the back end of the bass spawn. With the 2024 event being a few weeks later in the year than it was in 2023, there may be a few stragglers left on beds, but the bass spawn will play a much smaller role in the overall weights. You might even see the beginning of the bluegill spawn!

My picks will be heavily geared towards shallow water anglers who are capitalizing on the shad spawn with crankbaits and shad-style topwater baits and then retreating to a secondary pattern of either fishing docks or targeting bluegill beds with soft-plastic worms, frogs and swimbaits.

Admittedly, this has been a very tough season for me so far and I have some serious catch-up to do. The philosophy on picking anglers at the last two events were exactly opposite of what I should have done. I picked the shallow water guys at Harris Chain instead of the forward-facing sonar gurus and I picked the same gurus at the St. Johns River instead of the shallow water guys. If I had had inverted my rosters, I would be sitting pretty.

At Lake Murray, I’m sticking with my gut, which says that shallow water guys will make up the majority of the Top 10 with a FFS guru or two in the mix, maybe even vying for the win.

Let’s jump into some picks.


Cody Huff wrapped up the event last year with a solid 22nd place finish, but that isn’t my primary reasoning for this selection. He has proven time and time again that when the bass are heavily targeting baitfish, he will be in the mix. Historically, he has not done very well in Florida, but this year, he posted back-to-back finishes in the 20s. That momentum and the fact that this one sets up well for him makes him a very safe pick.

Don’t Forget About: Hunter Shryock

I’ve been on team Shryock for years and he is in prime position to possibly pick up his first win. He has cashed a check at each event so far this year and he is sitting in 19th in AOY. He finished less than 2-pounds behind last year’s winner without catching any fish off the bed. If he can duplicate the areas he found last year, he’ll be there again on Sunday this time around.


Initially, there was a pretty good toss-up between Patrick Walters and Kyoya Fujita, but ultimately really like Walters’ momentum and history. Both of these guys are among the highest fantasy fishing point-scoring anglers in Bucket B, but Fujita has ultimately struggled on several key days, having to drum up a major comebacks to get back in the mix which are hard to count on. Both guys struggled in the Florida swing, but Walters feels more like a surefire bet looking forward across the next several events.

Don’t Forget About: Brandon Card

If Kyoya and Patrick are not the anglers for you, consider Brandon Card. Anytime they are keyed in on baitfish, he tends to dial it in. He lives a few short hours from Murray and has spent plenty of time in this region of the country fishing herring lakes.


A self-proclaimed shallow-water power-fisherman, Shane LeHew is no stranger to capitalizing on a shad spawn. Last time around, he had a strong showing, finishing 14th. If you find yourself in Bucket C at this point in the year, that means you need to seriously consider your position in the AOY standings for the sake of the 2025 Classic. Currently, LeHew finds himself right outside the cut, so he’ll need to rally the back half of the season to secure his spot.

Don’t Forget About: Brandon Palaniuk

Brandon Palaniuk also finds himself in an unfamiliar position, outside the AOY cut. This has not been an ideal season for him, but next few events plus the northern swing should be a great chance for a course-correction. There have been plenty of events where crankbaits, topwaters and swimbaits have led to solid finishes for him. He averaged right at 17-pounds a day in 2023, so he was just a few key bites away from making Day 4.


No one is more local to Lake Murray than Brandon Cobb, with Greenwood, SC being just a short jump to the west. He has a plethora of experience following the herring around and should be well-ahead of the curve. Last year, he could have been fishing for spawners, but spent the majority of his efforts on the flats looking for roaming, feeding bass. Since he chose to do that instead of sight-fishing, another one of his strengths, that gives me all the more confidence that he’ll have another strong showing where sight-fishing will not play as big of a role.

Don’t Forget About: Jason Williamson

Another South Carolinian, Jason Williamson, also found himself in the mix in 2023, finishing 9th with an average of over 20-pounds a day. Many of his career highlights have consisted of herring-driven lakes, so he will feel right at home.


Mike Iaconelli is a bit of mystery to me, but in general, it seems like when some of the more typical techniques tend to be at play, there is always a chance for him to do well. He missed the final day by one spot in 2023, but like most of the field, he spent the bulk of his efforts chasing the shad spawn. He is a long way from the Classic cut, but there are always trophies on the line and if there is one thing we all know about Ike, it’s that he will Never Give Up.

Don’t Forget About: Matthew Robertson

Matty Robertson finds himself near the bottom of the field at this point in the season. However, the next several events should suit him. He loves a big swimbait and a topwater and is comfortable swinging for five or six big bites. That bit him last year at Murray when he couldn’t manage enough big bites to proceed to Day 4, but he did have one of the biggest bags of the tournament, leading Day 1 with over 25-pounds. If he can put his head down and fish the way he wants to, he’ll have a good shot at righting the ship.

Falcon Rods Bassmaster Drain the Lake Challenge

• Brandon Cobb
• Jacob Foutz
• Cody Huff
• Michael Iaconelli
• Shane Lehew
• Ben Milliken
• Patrick Walters
• Jason Williamson